DAKAR, 21 March 2008 (IRIN)—If West African governments are serious about reducing migration from their countries they must invest in improving living conditions and reducing inequality, according to sociologists, economists and other experts meeting in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, this week.
“As long as governments do not attack the longstanding and structural problems that make people leave, I think they are completely off-track,” Cheikh Omar Ba, a Senegalese sociologist with the Initiative for Rural and Agricultural Futures said.
Ba was among technical experts and government officials at a 17–19 March conference on migration and development in Africa.
A principal aim of the conference—organised by the International Organization for Migration, the Dakar-based foundation TrustAfrica and the UN’s African Institute for Economic Development and Planning (IDEP)—was to urge African governments to incorporate migration into their national development strategies.
Conference participants noted that migration was inevitable and had both negative and positive effects for countries of origin. But many at the conference said too many people in West and Central Africa were unnecessarily being forced out of their home regions or countries because of bad policies.
“The distribution of economic gains is still largely inequitable, leaving the vast majority of the people below the poverty line,” IDEP’s Aloysius Ajab Amin told participants, blaming economic policies that are failing people in much of sub-Saharan Africa.
Amin said youths across the continent lived in “misery” caused by soaring unemployment and inadequate basic infrastructure while seeing their peers who have migrated sending money back home. “What readily comes to their mind is how to join the migration train.”
Abdoulaye Kane, who is with the University of Florida’s Centre for African Studies, said he was concerned that in many societies in the Sahel region of West Africa where migration has become the norm, other options were dissolving.
“If you go to the border area of Senegal, Mali and Mauritania now you have a whole social pressure on young people to move, to migrate, to go out, because it’s seen as the only way to succeed socially speaking,” Kane told IRIN.
“People are now saying you don’t need to go to school, because they compare those who went to school and those who have migrated in terms of their buying power. I think African states have to find a way to promote education and also find a way to retain people they train by giving them better working conditions and higher salaries.”
The fallout of climate change is increasingly seen as a driver of migration. While global effects from climate change are inevitable, in this area, too, participants said, governments can help rural communities adapt so they can continue to feed themselves.
“Governments must focus on what they can tackle themselves,” sociologist Ba said. “They can put in place more equitable policies, invest more in rural infrastructure, including roads and water supply; they can invest in better agricultural production at the small farmers’ level.”
African governments have developed plans for adapting to climate change—covering several sectors including agriculture—but they have yet to be implemented.
“Migration is a reaction to scarcity—scarcity created by external forces but also by government policy,” he said.
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